FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”

by

British MP David Davis’s text messages poking fun at the appearance of a female colleague make him the latest whipping boy for those determined to root out sexism and misogyny in public life, the Daily Mail reports. Curiously, they also make him the latest poster boy for exponents of an expansive “right to privacy” like Brendan O’Neill of spiked magazine.

I’m not sure how Davis’s text messages — in which he denied attempting to kiss MP Diane Abbot because “I am not blind” — became public. The Daily Mail doesn’t say. Perhaps the recipients talked about them. Perhaps his phone was hacked.

If the latter, there are certainly moral and legal aspects of the matter which bear at least tangentially on privacy. But O’Neill takes those aspects far beyond the realm of the reasonable. He asserts a general ethical constraint along the lines of the legal “fruit of the poison tree” standard under which evidence illegally obtained cannot be used in trials, but on steroids.

“That Davis’s texts were leaked,” writes O’Neill, “doesn’t make it okay to haul him over the coals for them, to insist that he retract and repent, because this still amounts to shaming someone for a private conversation.”

Under O’Neill’s standard of personal behavior, you cannot allow something that you learn about me to affect your opinion of me or your behavior toward me in any way if I did not intend for you to be aware of it.

If I’m a Christian clergyman and a parishioner catches me praying in the Islamic manner, or engaged in sexual congress with a woman not my wife, when he barges into the parsonage uninvited, well, he should just keep his mouth shut about it — and even if he doesn’t the congregation certainly shouldn’t discharge me or ask their denomination to defrock me. After all, that would be a violation of my privacy!

That’s absurd.

A number of rights do, in effect, protect personal privacy. The rights of free speech and free press include the right to refrain from speaking or publishing if there’s something I don’t want to tell you. Property rights mean that I can bar you from my house and knowledge of what goes on there absent a warrant issued on probable cause to believe I’ve committed a crime. It’s proper that information gained in violation of those rights be excluded from criminal proceedings, if for no other reason than to discourage police from violating those rights.

But personal and public opinion aren’t court proceedings such as those referred to by Edward Coke when he said (as quoted by O’Neill) “no man, ecclesiastical or temporal, shall be examined upon the secret thoughts of his heart, or of his secret opinion.”

Nor is there a “right to privacy” — a right to forbid other people to know things — as such. Privacy is merely an effect — an imperfect intersection of penumbrae emanating from other rights.

Like the European Union’s “right to be forgotten,” O’Neill’s “requirement to forget” is illiberal and Orwellian.

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail